No one forgotten
In 1995, Belarus became the first country worldwide to have its own military specialised search battalion, seeking out thousands of unrecorded graves — from the Napoleonic War, WW1 and the Great Patriotic War. More than 2,000 names of soldiers have been rescued from obscurity, allowing their graves to be marked.
Thank you for finding my father!
Russian Yevgenia Nikitina, though named after her father, has no memory of him, recognising his face only from old photos. She was born in January, 1941, in March. Yevgeny Ivashkov was called up to serve in the military and, in June, the war began. All her archive enquiries had proved fruitless until recently, when Yevgenia, her son and granddaughter were able to finally visit the place where he fell. They saw his grave and were even able to hold fragments of the machinegun used by sergeant Ivashkov.
“While widening the road near Logoisk, the remains of three soldiers were found,” notes Andrey Karkotko, an archaeologist on the special search team. “It was amazing luck that, during excavations, we found three ebonite capsule-medallions which allowed us to establish the names of the dead: junior sergeant Sergey Surkov, Red Army soldier Vasily Volosenkov and sergeant Yevgeny Ivashkov. Their relatives were located and we invited them here, as well as to visit our centre and museum. They gave them photographs and documents and took home to Russia, alongside a handful of Belarusian soil, for which soldiers fought and died during the Great Patriotic War.”
“This year alone, the remains of 1,788 people have been found,” notes the commander of the 52nd specialised search battalion, Oleg Merkutsa. “1,747 fought in the Great Patriotic War, while 35 died in WW1.”
They were the first
Last autumn, the soldiers of the battalion conducted digs around the Brest Fortress Memorial Complex. Mr. Karkotko explains, “We chose the excavation site after seeing German photos from 1941. These show a large crater in which the corpses of dead fortress defenders were thrown. Judging by the size of the crater, it was created by a large aerial bomb or Karl mortar shell. The latter scattered two-tonnes bombs across three kilometres and was used by the Germans to try and destroy heavily fortified constructions. Brest Fortress was its first outing, with 31 shells launched. A report on the effectiveness of Karl mortars was sent to Hitler, including aerial photographs of hits. One shows the crater, filled with the bodies of dead fortress defenders. The excavation unearthed the remains of 58 Red Army soldiers, who were exhumed and reburied. They were killed while defending the Brest Region in June-July 1941. Previously, they’d been considered missing, with no bodies ever located. You can imagine the relief felt by their families, who had spent years knowing nothing. Some have now visited Belarus to pay their respects at the new graves. Naturally, the soldiers were reburied with full honours.”